21st Century Percussion: Saturday, May 30 | 10pm

Evelyn Glennie, Andy Akiho, Bonnie Whiting, and Third Coast Percussion are among the featured artists in this week’s episode.

If you want to be a percussionist in the 21st century, you’ve got to play a lot more than just drums.

The percussion toolkit is constantly expanding, and nowadays percussionists have to be prepared to play just about anything. Sure, there are some of the more familiar percussion instruments like gongs, marimbas, or the triangle—but there are also flower pots, kitchen pans, water glasses, and so much more. If you can hit, shake, or strike it, it’s a percussion instrument.

On this week’s episode of Second Inversion, we’re exploring the vast and vibrant world of 21st century percussion. We’ll hear music written for pails of water, planks of wood, an orchestra of gongs, and more—plus, we’ll talk with Seattle percussionist Bonnie Whiting about the revolutionary spirit of percussion.

To listen, tune in to KING FM on Saturday, May 30 at 10pm PT.

This is an encore episode which first aired in March. Our field trip to the percussion studio of Bonnie Whiting is featured in the episode. Listen to the full interview below!

Music of the Great Outdoors: Saturday, May 23 | 10pm

Photo by Erin Anderson.

by Maggie Molloy

From ocean to desert, forest to tundra, composers have always found music in nature. The rhythm of waves, the rustling of leaves, the song of the mountain—or the colors of the wind.

On this Saturday’s episode of Second Inversion, we’ll explore music of the great outdoors. We’ll hear the pulse of the Amazon River, a duet with the Moab Desert, field recordings from the Pacific Crest Trail, and even music made from living plants.

To listen, tune in to KING FM on Saturday, May 23 at 10pm PT.

A selection from Third Coast Percussion’s Paddle to the Sea is among the music featured in this week’s episode.

Colors in Classical Music: Saturday, May 16 | 10pm

Image by Steve Johnson.

by Maggie Molloy

“Color” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in conversations about classical music—and it can be a slippery thing to describe.

Just like in painting, composers can create different colors in music by mixing together different instruments, harmonies, or even rhythms to evoke a certain mood or energy. They might blend all the colors of the orchestra together or create sharp color contrasts in their music. Sometimes, composers even write with a very specific color in mind.

On this week’s episode of Second Inversion, we’ll explore pieces that take a more literal approach to color. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple—we’ll hear music inspired by every color in the rainbow. Plus, one piece that mixes them all together.

To listen, tune in to KING FM on Saturday, May 16 at 10pm PT.

Minimalism Past and Present: Saturday, May 9 | 10pm

by Maggie Molloy

Philip Glass, Julius Eastman, and Steve Reich are among the minimalists featured in this episode.

Truth, order, and simplicity—those are some of the major hallmarks of the minimalist art movement. It flourished in America during the 1960s and ’70s, primarily as a visual arts movement at first but eventually expanding into design, fashion, architecture, and even a lifestyle aesthetic.

Minimalism also found its counterpart in music. Instead of telling a story or taking the audience on a journey from point A to point B, minimalist music calls attention to the actual activity of listening itself—it’s about being present in the moment. Composers do this in a variety of ways: through repetition, circling melodies, pulsing rhythms, steady drones, or simple harmonies. When performed well, minimalism can feel almost trancelike or hypnotic for the listener.

On this week’s episode of Second Inversion, we’re exploring masterworks of minimalism—plus we’ll hear how some of these iconic pieces are still influencing artists today. We’ll also talk about some of the non-Western musical traditions that helped shape American minimalism.

To listen, tune in to KING FM on Saturday, May 9 at 10pm PT.

This is an encore episode which first aired in March. It features excerpts from Emerald City Music‘s performance of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. Watch videos from the concert on-demand in the playlist below:

VIDEO PREMIERE: Reena Esmail’s Piano Trio

We are thrilled to present the premiere of Reena Esmail’s Piano Trio, performed by violinist Kristin Lee, cellist Joshua Roman, and pianist David Fung. This video was recorded at Town Hall Seattle.

Program notes by Aaron Grad:

“I wish I could live in India and America at the same time,” says Reena Esmail, the daughter of Indian immigrants who has become one of the most respected young composers in the United States; “I wish they shared a border, and I could build a little home right in between them. I know I can’t do that in the physical world, but this is where I live every day in my music.”

Esmail’s compositions straddle two of the world’s most sophisticated musical traditions. On one side is the art music of Europe and its system of tonal harmony that developed over the last 400-plus years, and on the other, Hindustani classical music from North India, organized around collections of tones known as raags that go back many centuries further. Studies at the Juilliard School and the Yale School of Music grounded Esmail in the practices of the West’s classical music, including its precise system of notation that allows performers of any background to interpret unfamiliar nuances. As a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar, she was able to spend a year in India studying the classical music of her ancestors, absorbing the oral tradition built on complex patterns and pitches that often can’t be categorized within Western norms.

Composer Reena Esmail.

Writing a Piano Trio has fulfilled one of Esmail’s oldest ambitions as a musician. Growing up as a talented pianist, trios with violin and cello were her favorite form of chamber music, and she won a life-changing competition that resulted in her performing Mendelssohn’s Second Piano Trio with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She also counts Ravel’s Piano Trio as an all-time favorite work, noting, “So much of what I’ve learned about color and texture in my writing comes from Ravel.” After three years of work and a pile of sketches that is up to 300 pages and counting (with less that three weeks to go before the premiere), Esmail is still polishing off this substantial score that reckons with the rigorous tradition of the four-movement piano trio. 

Authentic raags appear in each movement of the trio, including the monsoon season raag known as Megh that informs a chorale from the strings and other gestures in the first movement. In a tempo marked “Ephemeral,” the smooth modal phrases and long slurs highlight Esmail’s affinity with Ravel, who also looked outside the Western canon to expand his shimmering soundscapes. Flutters, slides and harmonics continue in the slow movement, creating a sense of improvisatory freedom while the music slips in and out of time.

By casting the quivering third movement as a scherzo, Esmail acknowledges her debt to Mendelssohn (the king of those elfin, lighter-than-air diversions), but moments of manic hilarity and sheer muscle recall a more subversive master of the piano trio, Shostakovich. In the finale, a singing string melody supported by “luminous” piano filigree surges to a droning climax marked “powerful, broad, intense.” When the unhurried ending arrives with glimmering harmonics and crystalline chords, this work completes an arc that places it squarely within the storied lineage of the “classical” piano trio—while making it clear just how irrelevant such boundaries truly are.